Thinking Strategically – Beam Me Up!

The Star Trek transporter has just been invented. Spell out some of the effects on the transportation industry.

Here’s another (actual) case which calls for strategy analysis. First of all, remember not to make any assumptions. Don’t apologize for not watching the show – ask your interviewer (who, if they’ve given you this question, is probably a fan) how exactly the transporter works. Effectively, the transporter is a near-instantaneous teleportation device. However, you should make sure you don’t assume exactly what the transporter, as invented, can or can’t do. (In this case, non-Trekkies may have an advantage!)

Let’s see how this Q&A might proceed:

You: Um, could you tell me exactly how the transporter works? How much can it transport at one time?

Interviewer: Let’s say the transporter can transport about the mass of Captain Kirk.

You: That would be about 200 pounds. Can it transport only living things, or inanimate objects as well?

Interviewer: Any type of object.

You: Can it transport anywhere at any time?

Interviewer: Yes.

You: Does there need to be another transporter at the end to receive the transport?

Interviewer: No, it’s pretty much a one-way process.

You: How common are these devices? Are they going to be readily available to the average consumer? How much do they cost?

Interviewer: For the time being, the transporters are expensive. They would cost about $300,000 each.

You: That clearly takes them out of the range of most home users. How much does it cost to use them?

Interviewer: Assume that the marginal cost of a transport is near zero. The only cost is for the transport-operator time, which is relatively small.

You: Are they safe? You said they were just invented.

Interviewer: Except for the occasional freak accident, yes, they are safe. They are as safe as plane travel.

You: That makes them very safe indeed. Okay, what I’m going to do is analyze how transporters will affect the following transportation industries: cars, passenger airlines, cargo shipping and package transport.

Interviewer: Fine. Go ahead.

You: These transporters don’t seem like they’ll take the place of cars. They are too expensive for home use. Larger companies could afford them, however. I could see some companies buying transporters in order to transport their employees and clients back from the office. They would need a transporter chief, of course. So there might be some impact on commuter traffic – perhaps 10 to 20 percent. If mass transit systems adopt transporters as well, the impact on traffic may be greater.

On the other hand, the transporter is a terrific substitute for plane travel. It’s instantaneous and from what you say, as safe as plane travel. The transporter will definitely be a serious competitor to airlines. Conceivably, passengers could be beamed directly to their destination, instead of going to the airport. The only drawback that I can see to the transporter is that any luggage would need to be beamed separately. And anyone weighing over 200 pounds may not be able to be beamed at all. This means that airplanes wouldn’t disappear, but they would be used mostly for cargo transport and other heavier loads. They would probably serve fewer markets, as there would be much-reduced passenger travel to supplement their flights.

As far as cargo, I think ships and planes would still be used for most cargo transport. Two hundred pounds is too small an amount for mass transport, and I’m assuming that you can’t separate the contents of a transporter, that you can only beam stuff to one area at once.

Interviewer: That’s how I understand it, yes.

You: Then getting packages sent same day, to anywhere in the world, would be a premium service. You could only ship one package at a time. You might be able to charge double or triple the price of an overnight package. Shipping companies like Federal Express might profit from its introduction.


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